February 17, 2016

Fairytale Fashion : a History Wardrobe Presentation

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:54 pm by historywardrobe


Fairytale Fashion : a History Wardrobe Presentation

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:53 pm by historywardrobe

Source: Fairytale Fashion : a History Wardrobe Presentation

February 14, 2016

Fairytale Fashion : a History Wardrobe Presentation

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:57 pm by historywardrobe


History Wardrobe

It’s been some time since I last attended a History Wardrobe presentation. However, that has now been corrected as yesterday I spent the afternoon enjoying yet again Lucy Adlington and Meredith Towne’s humour, expert knowledge and style at the Bagshaw Museum in nearby Batley.

the set

Fairy tale fashion display

“Once upon a time… Step into your favourite stories as we explore the world of magical clothes – the red riding hood, cloaks of invisibility, seven league boots and, of course, the legendary glass slippers.
In Fairytale Fashion we explore the enchanting history of the Princess dress, from Cinderella’s ball gown to Princess Diana and Disney. A dazzling fairy godmother dresses Cinderella for all the glory of an 18th Century ball.”


I recognised the Ladybird Books from my own childhood

To begin … Once upon a time … Lucy sets out the ‘rules’ of fairy tales – Be careful who you meet; Be…

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September 1, 2015

A visit to Gretna and The History Wardrobe

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Source: A visit to Gretna and The History Wardrobe

A visit to Gretna and The History Wardrobe

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:51 pm by historywardrobe

Costume & Conflict

Pack Up Your Troubles: Gretna

On Saturday I escaped the chaos of the last weekend of Edinburgh Fringe for an entirely different kind of festival, the Pack Up Your Troubles First World War festival in Gretna. I made this trip in order to see a presentation from The History Wardrobe, and unfortunately did not manage to see anything else at the festival (I wish I could have attended the Make Do & Mend session at the Devil’s Porridge Museum, but I have lined up a visit to that museum for another time! ). I did however learn a little about the history of the area beyond my minimal knowledge (via Jane Austen) of Gretna Green as a destination for quick marriages.

Gretna was known during the First World War for HM Factory which spread over 9 miles and employed 30,000 workers – who were largely female. By 1917 the…

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July 29, 2015

Power-dressing through history

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:40 pm by historywardrobe

New Look patterns 1980s (4)

1980s female work suits. The monochrome palette & broad shoulders suggest seriousness and quasi masculine impact. Cleavage, heels and sleek hosiery hint at sexuality. A difficult balance to get right at work, even now.

“One day I was doing a signing in a London bookshop and next in the queue was a lady in what, back in the eighties, was called a ‘power suit’ despite its laughable lack of titanium armour and proton guns…”

– Terry Pratchett in Meditations on Middle Earth, 2001

Hilda Rogan - Bus Conductress WW1

Hilda Rogan, WW1 bus conductor, enjoys the power and public acknowledgement conferred by a uniform

Clothes convey power

Armour has its place as powerful outwear, and there are also the obvious signifiers of power, such as crowns, capes and military insignia.  But everyday ‘civilian’ clothes have powerful messages of their own.

Sometimes this is through a literally enhanced presence: strong boots, built up shoulders, excess of fabric.  Sometimes, instead of standing out, power is conferred by homogeneity – belonging to a group all wearing the same uniform. Perhaps a suit.

Historically, certain colours and fabrics have been jealously categorised as elite-only, and therefore power-enhancing: consider the colour purple, for example, or the Sumptuary Laws limiting silks to certain ranks.

Conceal or Reveal

How much of your body clothes cover is also significant.  For example, are cultural requirements to hide the body, hair or face a form of gendered manipulation or a means of keeping power through modesty?  Or, when clothes such as corsets, cages and contoured pads are used to mould the natural form into a fashionable shape, who has the power – the fashion industry, the consumer, or the spectator?  As for etiquette, for much of human history, hats have played a crucial role in asserting power, or, when doffing a hat, offering homage to someone of higher status… or as an act of so-called chivalry.

Who’s Wearing the Trousers?

Suits You 1983 trouser suit

1983 office suit. Trousers for female leisure wear were worn by a few from the 1920s onwards; only by the 21st century were they fully ‘normal’ in all professional situations (except No. 1 dress in the military).

Historical Paris costumes (8)

A 13th-c Knight Templar: Obvious power through chainmail, cloak, Christian symbol & sword

Trousers have very strong associations with power. The Romans disdained them as fit for barbarians (outsiders) only. 18th-century gentlemen at first scorned them in favour of breeches, then followed George ‘Beau’ Brummell’s example in wearing them. By the 19th century they were firmly established as a fundamental garment for men. To wear trousers meant having freedom-of-movement, as well as the symbolic power of patriarchy. No wonder women had to fight so hard to wear them, enduring ridicule in the 1860s with Turkish trousers, then wary admiration for cycling breeches in the 1890s, and finally a long, slow integration of trousers into everyday wear. We might ask – is there ‘power’ still in skirts and dresses?  For Transgender people, how might the power dynamic change when adopting clothes weighted with such assumptions about gender?

Stay Laces 1967 girdle

Are seductive clothes a passive form of power-dressing? Here, an elasticated nylon girdle and under-wired bra from 1967

Leaving the Past Behind?

Many of our clothing choices are still based on cultural constructs from history.  In an era of fast fashion, ‘designer’ labels and creeping informality how, if at all, do we show power now?

Lucy Adlington @historywardrobe is author of Great War Fashion; also Fashion:Women in World War One, and the forthcoming book from Penguin Random House, Stitches In Time, the Story of the Clothes we Wear

She runs History Wardrobe – delightful costume-in-context presentations – and lectures extensively in the UK

Join the #csfashionhour discussion 2pm September 4th 2015

June 16, 2015

Knitting and Sewing

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:56 am by historywardrobe

A lovely first-hand account of WW2 thrift and ingenuity

A Housewife's Work

Crafts are coming back into fashion again, but rather as a hobby than a necessity. In this post, my Mum looks back to the knitting and sewing during the war and post war years.

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British Women Go To War by J.G. Priestley / P.G. Hennell

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:52 am by historywardrobe

This is a gem of a book and the colour photos, although posted, are highly inspirational


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May 8, 2015

Where Did Their Clothes Go? Textile Recycling at the Foundling Hospital

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:45 pm by historywardrobe

I always enjoy finding out more about historical recycling of textiles


The Foundling Hospital was set up to care for children whose parents were unable to support them. The first children were accepted in 1741 and it was quickly recognised that the Hospital provided a valuable public service. From 2 June 1756 to 25 March 1760 Parliament provided funds for the Hospital to accept all children presented to it. Nearly 15,000 children aged 12 months or under were accepted.

Babies entered the Hospital wearing clothes provided by their mothers and were commonly garbed in decorative printed, checked and striped gowns. Yet these garments could not be used again by the Foundlings because the Hospital required its charges to wear a uniform. Infants were dressed identically in grey, the older children wore brown. With 15,000 children entering the Hospital in the space of four years, tens of thousands of garments were collected. So where did these clothes go?

Textiles were expensive during…

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April 28, 2015

Fancy a Cuppa? Taking Tea in the Thirties

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1930s lime green gown and bolero jacket... and my grandmother's art deco china

1930s lime green gown and bolero jacket… and my grandmother’s art deco china

There’s so much to talk about over tea in the Thirties…

Did you see the new Clark Gable film at the pictures last night..?  Have you heard the latest about the Abdication Crisis on the wireless..?  Wouldn’t you just love to cruise across the Atlantic in the super fast ‘Queen Mary’..? 

Open the newspaper to read about weddings, coronations, invasions, Olympics… and that man Hitler.

These are modern, fast-moving times.  You might have driven your automobile to the tea shop (stopping at newly-invented zebra crossings, I hope; observing new cat’s-eyes road markings, and possibly parking in a new multi-storey car park).  The cafe table cloths might be laundered in an automatic washing machine – although boiling water poured from a height is also recommended for removing tea stains.

At least you won’t be bothered by people talking on mobile telephones.

What will you be drinking…?

Tea, of course.  Made from steeped tea leaves and served in china cups with saucers and tea spoons (one lump or two?)  Or on a hot summer’s afternoon perhaps some home-made lemonade, with enough real lemons to make you wince.  There’s coffee too.  Instant coffee that take seconds to make (caffeine-free also available).  No fancy lattes, moccachinos or expressos – just with milk or without.  All to be chased down by a cigarette or two (Good for the lungs, dontchaknow).

What will you be eating?

There are many familiar products in the 30s, from Birds Eye custard and Ovaltine to Ryvita and Bourneville chocolate.  But

A perfectly pretty pink cake from 1936

A perfectly pretty pink cake from 1936

it’s cakes which reign supreme at a 1930s tea table.  Fluffy Victoria sponges squishing layers of fruity jam and fresh cream… cherry cake, chocolate cake, short bread, gingerbread, almond biscuits and coconut pyramids, all dusted with delicate icing sugar.

Not good for the figure?  Fear not!  Marmola Anti-Fat pills promise to melt away the pounds; Beasley’s Reducing Corset controls unruly curves.  For an extra healthy look, Kolynos toothpaste whitens tea-stained teeth and Beecham’s pills soothe a sour stomach.  (And if you’re worried about being too, too thin, Beautipon amazing vegetable flesh forming paste will give you curves in all the right places.)

Need a little extra help?  Then men – strap on your Linia abdominal belt! Women – wiggle into your rubber roll-on girdle!

Delightful fashions c 1931 - not much room for cake in these long lines

Delightful fashions c 1931 – not much room for cake in these long lines

Most importantly: what will you wear to tea?

Ah, for that information you’ll need to see a performance of the History Wardrobe presentation Tea Gowns & Tea Time with a tempting display of vintage fashions and a simply smashing insight into taking tea 30s-style.

For more details on events near you, see the History Wardrobe diary.  And bon appetit!

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